Imagining A New Lebanon

Monday, October 17, 2022
Opinion by Jean AbiNader

Now that the maritime deal is almost done, there seems to be an air of hope – if the three presidents can agree on a deal with Israel, there may be a future for a solid deal with the IMF, too. But if there is to be a “new” Lebanon, will reforms be enough to cultivate Lebanon’s rise from the ashes of the old, or will the seeds of democracy planted by our fore bearers fail to weed out the corruption and mismanagement? Put another way, should we wait until Lebanon self-destructs as a government before there’s a way forward? These are very tough questions, and ones which we struggle with every day at ATFL.

There are so many obstacles to a brighter future for Lebanon. Take the mood of the parliament for example. During the 2022 budget process, the parliament was hardly reform-minded. In a helpful and pointed article from the Policy Initiative titled, “The Rigged Budget,” the authors argue that nothing has changed. In fact, the entire process reflects the chronic inability of political elites to prioritize national issues over sectarian ones and to secure resources for themselves and their affiliated business cronies. They point out, “Ultimately, the budget is not an accounting tool. It is a political document that spells out government priorities and the means to finance them.” Lebanon, as a functioning state, is dying from an ill-conceived banking scheme, lack of productive investments, and humiliating degradation of Lebanon’s currency and hence the life of its people.

There are screams for a national vision that restores social services, puts families first, and prioritizes economic stability and security. The Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF), the most trusted institution in the country, is hobbled by politicians who benefit from illicit smuggling, economic deterioration, and impaired and lacking social services. But still, hopeful people yearn for a renaissance in Lebanon.

Will there be deliverance in Lebanon? Not according to the analysts. As Fadi Nicholas Nassar claims, “Deprivation is the unbearable new normal and it affects every aspect of our lives. One’s income alone does not accurately capture the access to basic rights, like adequate housing, essential utilities, healthcare, or education.”

People speak of Lebanese resilience, but the reality is trending more towards compliance – reflected in conversations about what to do with the refugees, the price of potatoes, the desire to emigrate, and so on. People are finding that humanitarian relief has become a way of life. Similarly, dependence on remittances is part of the new normal since 75% of women are economically inactive and unable to secure the basics for holding their homes together. “Women are increasingly pushed into the informal economy, in a context where violence and abuse are rising and women left structurally unprotected.”

Nassar, argues that, “Households and individuals cannot adjust to fill the state’s responsibilities—the state must prioritize the urgent building-up of essential public service infrastructure to ensure the integrity and access to education, healthcare, utilities, and other rights. A failed state earns its name.”

And yet the beat continues – not that of a parade or the celebratory calling together of people, but more the beat of the dirge that is increasingly heard in the neighborhoods where the poor go hungry, the sick go without medication, and the youth surrender their chances of acquiring life-building skills to the all-consuming entropy of modern-day Lebanon, while parents wonder what good they are if they can’t provide a better life for their children.

Yet, both local and overseas Lebanese are not prepared to fail. Armed with only a small bit of hope, businesses will restart and regenerate employment, banks will restore access to depositors, fully stocked and staffed hospitals and schools will function better than ever, lighting and heating for the upcoming winter will be resolved without over-reliance on generators, and political coalitions will form to sustain hope for the Lebanese people.

Yes, the people know what needs to be done, and it starts with the parliament making the right decisions and focusing on the right priorities – restoring jobs and government services, eliminating hunger, normalizing relations with the IMF. Yes, parliament, you know the way: arrive at a way forward that does not penalize the majority of the people, but instead offers a recipe for reconstruction and revival; elect someone as president who can work across the hole that is Lebanon’s government; and make the vision of a new Lebanon a reality.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in these articles are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the American Task Force on Lebanon, a non-profit, nonpartisan leadership organization of Lebanese-Americans.